I don’t drink coffee. There, I said it. I live in Italy, but I don’t like the national drink/quotidian drug. It’s a slight problem for me, as really, the caffè (café) is all about the caffè (coffee), right down to sharing the same word. Having said that, I don’t mind a little bit of coffee flavoured cake-action. I think it’s a fond memory of my grandmother’s coffee-walnut cakes, which I’d happily eat as a small child, while never actually developing a taste for the actual drink.
Oddly, though, I do like really bitter ch ocolate, and other bitter flavours. People have told me this is silly, as the bitterness of a serious dark chocolate is not unlike the bitterness of a good coffee. (My favourite chocolate at the moment is 73 percent cacao with cacao bean nibs.) Although I realise I miss out on a major factor in the Italian socio-cultural dynamic, in many ways it’s good I never developed a taste for it: I’m a fairly twitchy person and a bad sleeper at the best of times. A caffeine habit wouldn’t help.
Anyway. One of my Christmas presents was Short & Sweet, a collection of baking recipes by Dan Lepard, some of which from his ever-reliable column in The Guardian. I had some butter than was threatening to go rancid, so I had to bake something, subito! (Which is Italian for “immediately”, even though in English we use the Italian word pronto – meaning “ready” – to mean “immediately”. How did that switcheroo happen?) It was unsalted, and I suspect they hadn’t washed the buttermilk off the fat sufficiently well.
Browsing the book, I found his Coffee and ricotta marble cake. There’s something eminently satisfying about the mottled crumb of a marble cake, plus coffee and ricotta are quintessentially Italian. We have some wonderful fresh ricotta available to us here. At the farmers’ market in the Ex-Mattatoio in Testaccio (open 9am to early evening Sat, 9am to around 2pm Sun), you can get sheep, cow or goat milk ricotta. Possibly even buffalo ricotta, as you can get buffalo mozzarella (bufala) – the best type, ahead of cow’s milk mozzarella, which is distinguished by being called fiore di latte, “milk flower”.
Dan L’s recipe divides the mixture, and mixes one with strong coffee, the other with marsala or rum. Given my attitude to coffee, I wasn’t entirely convinced by this, especially as I didn’t think it’d make the sponge distinctly dark enough, so I made a coffee/cocoa mix instead. Hence it’s a mocha ricotta marble cake. Which, frankly, has a lovely ring to it too. I knocked back the sugar in his recipe too as quite so much didn’t seem necessary.
10g ground coffee
10g cocoa powder
25g boiling water
125g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
200g plain flour
3 medium eggs (about 50g each)
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g marsala or rum
1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Grease and line a deep loaf time, around 18cm long.
3. Pour the boiling water onto the coffee and cocoa powder.
4. Cream together the sugar and butter.
5. Add about 50g of the flour to the sugar and butter mixture and beat in.
6. Sieve together the remaining 150g flour with the baking powder.
7. Beat the ricotta into the sugar and butter mixture.
8. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
9. Gently beat the remaining flour/BP into the mix.
10. Divide the mixture in two. You don’t have to weigh it unless you’re especially pedantic.
11. Mix the mocha liquid into one half, the marsala into the other.
12. Put alternating spoonfuls of the mixtures in the tin, smooth down the surface with wet knuckles, and run a skewer or spoon handle through the mixtures to create some marbling. .
13. Bake for around 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
14. Cool in the tin for around 20 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack.
You can serve it dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with a smooth basic water icing made with around 50g icing sugar and cold water. Add the water in tiny amounts and blend until you have a slightly runny consistency.
I did my icing with a small paper piping bag. They’re nifty little items. This video shows you how to make them, but I would say divide the initial triangle into two smaller triangles as you only need a small bag for such a small amount of icing. Also, for small bags (I’m talking about the length of a finger), you don’t need a nozzle either, just snip the very end off to make a whole of around 2mm and it’ll be perfect for drizzling.